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Sheriff candidates debate, trade attacks

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The two candidates for Clayton County Sheriff exchanged blunt attacks, during a 30-minute, recorded, television debate, which will be aired on Sunday.

Jack Rainwater, the Republican running for the office, said the Democrat, Kem Kimbrough, lacked the personality and the experience to be sheriff. Asked to name a reason people shouldn't vote for his opponent, Rainwater said "the best reason I can think of is, when I started in law enforcement, Mr. Kimbrough was 1-year-old."

Kimbrough, in return, said Rainwater hasn't managed a law enforcement office, hasn't been in a sheriff's office, currently works security, and would have to learn on the job.

"We don't need to have a 'feeling-out' phase, or a 'get-to-know' you phase," said Kimbrough, who was once a major over the county jail.

The two men sparred for half an hour in the mostly-empty studio of Georgia Public Broadcasting, Monday morning. The candidates took questions from three reporters and, in one round, asked each other questions.

Both men took the opportunity to look at the camera directly and ask the citizens of Clayton County for their votes, but they also used the stage time for attacks.

Rainwater said Kimbrough had let personal relationships interfere with professional obligations, when he was at the sheriff's office.

Kimbrough responded that Rainwater "likes to kind of beat around the bush and kind of accuse me of things without actually accusing me."

At one point, the fight got a little bizarre, as Rainwater accused Kimbrough, who is black, of once listing his race as "other," and Kimbrough accused Rainwater, who is white, of always mentioning his wife is black.

"Why is it you continue to return to race?" Kimbrough said. "Why does it matter if I listed my race as "other" or as "African American" on some form? Race -- we need to get beyond race and race baiting. In Clayton County, we need better than divisiveness and race baiting."

Rainwater seemed to be on the defensive, most of the debate, and had to respond to some questions which weren't asked of his opponent. He was asked how he expects to connect with the citizens of an overwhelmingly Democratic county, when he's a Republican, and he was asked to explain why he hasn't dropped out of the race.

During the primaries, when a crowd of Democrats attacked the incumbent sheriff, Victor Hill, Rainwater said he was the "last line of defense." Now that Hill isn't in the race, having lost to Kimbrough in the primary's runoff, Rainwater said he never meant to be the last line of defense against just Hill, but against "the wrong candidate."

Kimbrough responded to some of the attacks, but more often, just let them go, even declining to make a rebuttal. "Jack has to explain everything he says. It's not my job to explain what Jack says," Kimbrough said.

The debate largely didn't touch policy or procedural issues, beyond the candidates' characterizations of their management styles and experience. Both men declined to say where they might make budget cuts, and both agreed it was possible and important to reduce the backlog of warrants, promising more would be served.

They did, however, give very different answers to one question about which policies or practices of Hill's they might continue.

Kimbrough said the current sheriff's strength was in being responsive to public concerns. "That's one thing I will give Victor credit for," the Democrat said. "I will listen and pay close attention to the people's concerns ... but when we come, we need to come as a team, we need to come with everybody together. There's no room for showboating."

Rainwater said he would keep some of the special units created by the current sheriff, including the Cobra Unit and the anti-domestic violence Stalking Unit.

"I'd maintain them," Rainwater said. "Not because the police aren't out their doing their jobs, but as additional forces out their doing the same job."

The debate will be aired on Sunday on Georgia Public Broadcasting from 10 to 10:30 a.m.